Senator says gov’t sitting on permits to import 10 million COVID-19 jabs | Inquirer News
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Senator says gov’t sitting on permits to import 10 million COVID-19 jabs

By: - Reporter / @deejayapINQ
/ 05:00 AM August 18, 2021

PENDING APPLICATIONS A medical worker prepares a dose of Sinovac at a 24/7 vaccination center at Holy Trinity Academy in Sampaloc, Manila, on Thursday. Despite efforts to speed up the inoculation drive during the lockdown, additional supply is being delayed by government inaction on the applications of local governments and private companies to import vaccines, according to a senator. —MARIANNE BERMUDEZ

MANILA, Philippines — Despite the country’s insufficient supply of vaccines, some 10 million doses ordered by local government units (LGUs) and private companies are hanging in the air because the government’s COVID-19 task force is sitting on their purchase agreement applications, Senate Majority Leader Juan Miguel Zubiri claimed on Tuesday.

He said the National Task Force Against COVID-19 should explain why it was taking so long to approve the pending requests by 42 LGUs and about 300 private companies for authority to import COVID-19 jabs directly from drug manufacturers, despite a law meant to expedite the process.

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The senator was referring to the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act, enacted into law in February and of which he was a principal author, that was supposed to have fixed any legal complication in the agreements for direct vaccine purchases.

It authorized the Department of Health and the COVID-19 task force to negotiate and approve the terms and conditions of procurement on behalf of LGUs and private entities in order to ensure price uniformity and prevent price competition.

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In an online interview, Zubiri expressed frustration over the bottleneck in the processing of these tripartite or multiparty agreements (MPAs) among the national government, the LGUs and private entities and the foreign vaccine manufacturers, which he said effectively denied their constituencies and workers access to the vaccines.

“It’s such a waste because these would come at no cost to the national government,” Zubiri said.

He said he filed Senate Resolution No. 858 on Tuesday calling for an inquiry into the delay.

Zubiri urged the Senate committee of the whole to look into reports that the applications submitted by LGUs and the private sector “have been left unsigned and are languishing on the national government’s end, directly affecting the country’s vaccine rollout.”

Main concern

To date, he said the only private sector-led vaccine purchases that have been approved were those ordered by the companies under the Go Negosyo umbrella of Presidential Adviser for Entrepreneurship Joey Concepcion and business tycoon Enrique Razon’s ICTSI Foundation.

Zubiri said he had exhaustive consultations with several LGU officials and the private sector and their number one concern has been the delay in the delivery and the unavailability of vaccines in far-flung areas.

Although they have applied for MPAs with the national government, he said these have remained unsigned and have not been acted upon.

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“Even my own province of Bukidnon has allotted as much as P500 million to purchase vaccines for 250,000 recipients, but our LGU has not been able to do so due to the nonaction on these MPAs with the national government,” Zubiri said.

“As it stands, no one knows what’s causing the delays, and it’s frustrating. There are still more than 63 million Filipinos who are not vaccinated. The COVID wards of hospitals are filling up again,” he said.

According to the COVID-19 task force, about 14 million Filipinos have been fully vaccinated as of Aug. 12, against a target of 77 million by year’s end.

“We really need to fast-track our vaccination, especially with the rising trend of positive cases, even in places under [hard lockdown]. And with the rise of the Delta variant, it should be all hands on deck in helping our government fight the pandemic,” Zubiri said.

There was no immediate reply from COVID-19 task force chief Sec. Carlito Galvez when the Inquirer asked for comment.

Excess US jabs

President Duterte on Monday also appealed to the United States for more COVID-19 vaccines, saying he was willing to buy its excess supply.

“I am just asking America to give us more if they have it,” Mr. Duterte said during his regular public address.

He said he understood that the United States would take care of its people’s needs first.

“But if there is excess supply there, you can send it to help my country. We have the money, we buy, we do not ask. We have saved money for this event,” he said.

The United States earlier donated Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to the country.

Mr. Duterte also recalled how he asked for help to get vaccines from Chinese President Xi Jinping.

He said China readily provided vaccines to the country without any strings attached, although its ships were in Philippine waters.

“Until now, China has not asked for anything from me, not even a ballpen. It has made no requests, nothing. Except that their boats are there, and I said, I would also put my ships there,” he said.

He said he had directed the deployment of the country’s ships to the West Philippine Sea one or two months ago, but this was not meant to worsen tensions.

“I do not want war with anybody, not with China, especially not with America since they are in our land,” he said.

China has a sweeping claim over the South China Sea, including portions that fall within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone.

The Permanent Court of Arbitration has invalidated Beijing’s expansive claim over the area following a Philippine complaint, but China has refused to recognize the ruling.

—WITH A REPORT FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA 
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TAGS: covid-19 vaccination, COVID-19 vaccine purchase applications, Juan Miguel Zubiri
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